September 14, 2004

Travesty in the 8th CD

If this evening's trends continue, we might as well get used to James Woods versus Bruce Springsteen in the 2016 Presidential elections. That, of course, will be after the Gropinator beats John Kerry in 2008, then gets knocked off in a White House closet by a despondent Linda Hamilton body double who's been out of work for years, giving us the ascendency of Vice President Rick Santorum to the highest office in the nation ("He's not as cute, but he loves Jesus! And cats! And he comes from the right kind of folks! Really!") for a very, very, long year. (And of course, after Tom Hanks refuses the Democratic nomination in 2015.)

Having heard the comments of lots of Democrats and not a few Republicans, most of us who play around in this sandbox a lot figured it would be Alex Alben versus Diane Tebelius. Alex had the qualificatons, the endorsements, and we frankly knew of very few people that wanted Dave Ross in office. Most committed Democrats seemed lukewarm towards him at best, let alone enjoyed his presence in the campaign. Dave wasn't able to listen to people one-on-one, he didn't have the patience to deal with issues, and where he did promote policy, it seemed half-baked at best.

Tebelius seemed to do a good impression of Jennifer Dunn in public, down to the hair, and Reichert kept lurching further and further to the right, seemingly alienating those who might accept someone perceived as a moderate Republican, the last preceived straw being either when he walked out of a debate in protest of attack ads by his competitors, when he announced being in favor of sunsetting the Federal assault weapons ban, or when a key campaign aide was found to be the bag man for a series of TV-based attack ads against Deborah Senn, one of two Democrats running in the same primary for state Attorney General.

And yet, if trends continue, it will be Dave Ross versus Dave Reichert for the 8th US Congressional District.

If this is so come the morning...was it that the public was so narrow-minded, so ignorant of the campaigns and the people running for office, that they took the lazy way out? Or was it that we, who tend to think we know how the world of politics works, were so willfully, absolutely, totally blind?

Or were we just naive?

Posted by palamedes at September 14, 2004 11:44 PM | WA Politics | Technorati links |

People who follow politics closely picked Dean, everybody else picked Kerry. The California Democrats thought that it would be clear to voters that Davis' policies were preferable to jingoist Republicans.

The general public doesn't read the blogs every day. They didn't get a chance to sit down with the candidates and have one-on-ones, or even probably have time to watch a debate, presuming there was one going on that they heard about. And the candidates favored by the people who watch generally get sucked into the big media catch-22 where if they don't turn their ideas into 3 second soundbites they won't get them printed, and if they get the soundbites printed, people think they aren't talking deeply about the issues.

The opinions of people like us, and those of we know are probably good predictors of political junkies' opinions, but not much else. You don't live in the same information space as everyone else, and it still shocks you because you haven't realized it yet.

Our question is whether to be Prometheus or Machiavelli. Expand public knowledge, or play to public disengagement.

And while the celebrity aspect of it irritates me no end, Ross isn't a bad candidate. He obviously has a name recognition plus, but he's a good policy sell because he can claim without distortion that he doesn't vote the party line. This might do well in a district that might not have decided to scrap voting for Republicans for Congress, even though it's trending blue. Also, good message framing. When I finally wrote that interview up, it surprised me all over again how well he put things.

In short, he has enough points in his favor that the 8th District Democrats should be able to send someone with a D after their name to Congress. Be optimistic, or at least, attempt it. It's time for our game faces.

Posted by: natasha at September 15, 2004 12:29 AM

This was different from Dean in Iowa, in that it wasn't just the blogosphere and wasn't just those that play in the world of politics a lot.

Many pundits in the media, print and television, didn't see either winning candidate gaining the desired traction, and were beginning to wonder if either candidate was viable. Ross was shown to have a very good shot at it in a KING TV poll early in the summer, but then didn't have much to say after that regarding who was ahead and who was behind in their eyes.

Alben did a ton of personal doorbelling - I can't speak for Heidi, and I don't know what the Republican candidates did in terms of face-to-face efforts.

We can live with Dave Ross as the guy with the D next to his name. But there is a story here that needs to be assessed and written, it will provide some answers we won't particularly like, and I think it will speak volumes about the state of the American electorate today.

Posted by: palamedes at September 15, 2004 06:52 AM

I believe this race is the most important in the area, and have watched it develop for 18 months. I find your critique that Dave Ross "wasn't able to listen to people one-on-one.." is completely off-base. Many newpaper accounts during the race mention campaign workers' frustration at his lingering on door-steps, engaged in one-on-one discussion with a single voter. And Dave was the ONLY candidate to call me personally. (In fact, he called TWICE, once leaving a message.) When he called the second time, he talked with me for over 30 minutes about my business, the race, the economy, etc. He not only got my vote, he got a very nice sized check for his time.

Meanwhile, the Alben campaign was horrible. He had lots of money, which he should have been spending a year ago on name-recognition activities. I signed up as a volunteer on his very nice website in late 2003, but was not even contacted by them until late Spring 2004. By then, I'm sure the WA DEMS had done some polling and realized Alex would get crushed in the general election, and scrambled to get another candidate. Say what you want about Paul Berendt, but he got this one exactly right. Otherwise, today we would all be trying to sum up the courage to actually support Heidi.

Posted by: bbuddha at September 15, 2004 07:58 AM

I can't speak to your delay in being contacted by the Alben campaign, but the rest of your analysis seems completely off based on my experience. Alben's field operation was intense and persistent: the campaign doorbelled over 30,000 doors in the district, breaking the record in Washington state for doorbelling, and they did it in the *primary*! Alex was determined to meet people and was out almost every day knocking on doors for three hours at a time, in Mercer Island, Renton, Issaquah, etc. They definitely did all they could do to overcome the name recognition battle, but on a local level, name recognition makes a huge difference since voters in a congressional race tend to pay even less attention than in a national race. While we on the blogs realize that WA-8 is a potential pick-up, and have been tuned into the importance of Congressional electoral races, most voters don't access this information. Thus, while disappointing, it's hardly surprising that the two celebrity candidates--Ross and Reichert--are the nominees while the more qualified candidates--Alben and Tebelius--go unseen by voters.

I'm surprised at the results because I expected more from Democratic hardliners. My intuition was that only the party faithful would turn out for a modified-Montana primary, and I expected a strong showing for Heidi and Alex, who have been vocal about their progressive politics, rather than Ross, whose record (and having been on the air for so long, he has one) suggests a political alignment that is less than true Democrat. While Paul Berendt's goal may have been to get any Democrat elected at any cost, I can't help but be disappointed at the practice of safe politics instead of sincere politics, in which we elect real Democrats to office.

It seems to me that the last thing we need, especially in light of a potential Bush re-election, is more Democrats who will drive the party further to the right by supporting the Patriot Act and hedging on the issue of choice. Plus, I think Alex would've had a much better chance against Reichert. He could've made it about substantive policy plans (which Alex had) versus fluffy talk (which Reichert does). But in a Ross v. Reichert match-up, it'll come down to rhetoric.

Posted by: gaurag at September 15, 2004 10:33 AM

I think it just shows that candidates need name recognition. A great way to get this is experience in the public eye. Maybe Albin needs to run for a lower office (state) before trying to be a congressman.

Posted by: uptown at September 15, 2004 11:08 AM

Bingo - name recognition. They knew one Dave from the radio and the other from being Sheriff. You can't doorbell a congressional district - it's too darn big. Heck you can't even doorbell a state legislative district, though some like Laura Ruderman have tried. People want to vote for someone they "know" at least a little. The solution? Smaller districts and larger legislative bodies.

Posted by: Richard at September 16, 2004 11:24 PM